“What is a successful Pagan experience?” Aoife, a reader of the blog, asked me this question in an Email exchange. Well, in my not so humble opinion, there’s not an easy answer. That’s because what makes a successful experience – those moments that just click so naturally you wonder why you never noticed before – is as different for each person as each person is a unique individual when compared to others. Because of that, its easier to explain what I consider those moments to be in my own past. Hopefully, it sheds enough light that others can relate.
One of my very first moments goes all the way back into my younger childhood. Right around the age of ten. My family was living in military base housing in Wiesbaden, Germany (West Germany at that time). As a family, we would go out every weekend (usually a Sunday) and participate in Volksmarches throughout the German countryside. Sometimes, we would drive two or three hours to participate in a particular Volksmarch event. Others were short drives from Wiesbaden. Sometimes we walked our ten-kilometer marches with my mother’s family (my mother was German, and I still have many relatives in Germany to this day). Other times, we walked with military families that we knew. Often, we made friends with other families walking in the events. During the marches, there were stations where you got a Volksmarching card stamped. At the end of the ten kilometers, you would turn in your card and receive a commemorative medallion which detailed the individual or event that was the celebratory aspect of the entire walk. I still have all those medallions….somewhere. I’ve always wanted to put those into shadow boxes to be displayed, but that’s another story for another time. Anyways, I remember one walk in particular. The ten-kilometer path was marked through part of the Black Forest. I forget which medallion commemorates this walk, But I will never forget the walk. The forested area of the walk went through a stretch in a hilly area. Off to either side was super thick forest. The pine trees were very close together. You couldn’t walk between the trunks without the branches clawing at your clothing. Most of the thinner trunks belonged to pine trees that were choked off from the sunlight of the taller trees. In later life, I would equate this experience to part of the Rush song “The Trees”:
There is unrest in the forest
Trouble with the trees
For the maples want more sunlight
And the oaks ignore their pleas
The trouble with the maples
(And they’re quite convinced they’re right)
They say the oaks are just too lofty
And they grab up all the light
But the oaks can’t help their feelings“The Trees” by Rush
If they like the way they’re made
And they wonder why the maples
Can’t be happy in their shade
I even had that thought when I was walking through that forest. Why did the trees that were taller stay green, when the smaller trees had no pine needles at all? That question helped me with a Boy Scout badge, where I researched forestation concepts. But there was so much more that happened than just an inquisitive child seeing so many questions to be asked and answered.
Even with a large horde of people walking on the forest path – all talking, laughing, and calling to their kids to not get too far ahead (I was one of those kids, by the way) – the forest was silent. All you could hear was the wind pushing the taller trees back and forth, with the occasional creak of those trees straining against that unseen pressure. On part of the path, a small group of wild boars could be seen much further in the trees. People stopped to stare, point, and exclaim their astonishment of seeing animals that usually stayed away from humans. Eventually, they clamored enough to force the group to go further into the woods, where the thick gathering of trees quickly obscured them. My mind immediately sprang to the point of realizing that we were essentially walking through the living room of these boar. How would I feel if these boars walked through the small base housing unit we lived in, strolling between the couch and the tv? It was an odd moment of empathy for me. One I couldn’t shake, even further into my life. Then there was the voice in the back of my head.
You’re seeing the world differently now. There’s no going back. Only forward.
To this day, I have no idea what that voice may have been. A God or Goddess? A Spirit of Place? A Spirit of Ancestor? My own inner monologue? Something else entirely? I have no idea. I have my own theory, but its completely unproveable. I believe that a Spirit of Place was speaking to me, welcoming (somewhat) into a different perspective. But this is my older self trying to rationalize what my ten-year old self had encountered. I’ve never been able to figure it out. But that moment truly is where I started to see the world from perspectives other than my own. I’m not sure anyone else would call this a “successful” Pagan moment in my life, but I consider it as such. It’s a moment where what happened clicked into place.
I have talked about this type of moment with others, essentially canvassing them for their own moments that had this same feeling – that same energy. Some have noted similar moments in their first rituals, both solo and group. Where everything that happened in that moment just clicked into place. That they had found something that felt like they had come home – that there was this moment of peace, and “rightness” that came over them. Their lives had changed forever at that moment. There was no going back. Others have found that moment after reading a book on Paganism, where the author’s words were just so perfect. I’ve had that moment as well, while reading Kristoffer Hughes’ book “Natural Druidry.” I’ve been around Kristoffer enough that I can literally hear him reading this book to me as I went through it. Everything in it is right on target with what I call “my Druidry.” His writings have affirmed what Druidry is in my own life, how the concepts are becoming a deeper, richer part of my own self-identity. How I know this path of Druidry is where my footfalls truly belong. Yes…THAT feeling, THAT energy.
Successful moments in Paganism? In Druidry? Yes, all the time. Just as there are moments where failure happens. And from those failures, we learn, we grow. I dabbled in Wicca for a few years. Enough that I knew it wasn’t the path for me. It was a failure for me. Not so much in the sense that I feel Wicca is a waste of time, and a horrible system. More in the sense that this was not where my footfalls and energy belonged. Just because it doesn’t work for me doesn’t mean that I think it’s a useless and wasteful path for others. Nine Hells, it wasn’t useless or wasteful for me. It just wasn’t the path for me. It was an experience I learned from. Please don’t let me dissuade you from choosing any path you want. Its your choice. Its your footfalls. Its your energy. TRY things and see if it works for you. And when you find that feeling, where things are so right, so “home,” so “you” – you won’t be able to contain the joy inside you.